Practice Applications President’s Page| Volume 117, ISSUE 11, P1707, November 2017

Before It’s a Lost Art: Help Clients and Patients Learn to Cook

Published:October 24, 2017DOI:
      When I was growing up, we took home-cooked family meals for granted. Meals were time for our family to talk about our day; there was no TV while eating and, of course, cell phones were something only The Jetsons had.
      But the trend has been pointing downward for decades. Fewer of us than ever are preparing meals at home,
      • Smith L.P.
      • Ng S.W.
      • Popkin B.M.
      Trends in US home food preparation and consumption: analysis of national nutrition surveys and time use studies from 1965-1966 to 2007-2008.
      and no country in the developed world cooks less than Americans.

      OECD (2011), Society at a Glance 2011 - OECD Social Indicators. Accessed September 25, 2017.

      Time pressures, technology, and restaurant options are all impediments to family meals, but not the only ones; many Americans simply do not know how to cook.
      Still, there is hope! I am so excited about initiatives throughout the country where Academy members are showing consumers, from schoolkids to senior citizens, the joys and benefits of cooking.

      The Tools People Need

      “The world of dietetics has changed quite a bit over the years, and I think we are finally starting to understand that people cannot make behavior changes if they are not equipped with the tools and know-how to make those changes,” says Kara LeClair, RDN, the early education/wellness/farm to school dietitian at the Burke County, GA, public schools. She heads Charlie Cart, an integrated educational program that uses a mobile kitchen classroom “to deliver hands-on nutrition education in any learning environment.”
      According to LeClair, “I have held cooking classes with Early Head Start children up to adults. It’s never too late or too early to learn how to cook! By introducing kids to these simple techniques at a young age, it’s not about turning them into tiny chefs, but about piquing their interest, starting a conversation at home and hopefully getting them in the kitchen with their guardian. Also, children are more likely to try a food if they’ve invested the time and effort into making it. Getting kids in the kitchen allows them to feel like they have a say over what they’re eating, and it makes it fun.”

      Time and Energy

      Rebecca Lewis, MS, RD, of New York, NY, is the head dietitian at HelloFresh, a company in the growing meal kit industry that provides ingredients and step-by-step preparation instructions for subscribers.
      “Cooking faces more obstacles than ever,” she says. “More and more people in the US are too intimidated or put off by cooking dinner at home, because cooking is never just cooking. It’s shopping and meal planning after work days as long as lines at the grocery store, as well as the pressure to feed the whole family. After extensively researching why people aren’t cooking, we discovered they often believe they lack the time necessary to do so. In fact, what they really lack is the energy.
      “We need to showcase the fun of cooking by illuminating all the positive aspects of cooking for our audience: the opportunity for social bonding and appreciation, the chance to channel creativity and mindfulness, and of course, the nourishment innate to a healthier meal prepared in the home,” Lewis adds. “We help our customers find their inner chef and give them the confidence to be an unstoppable champion in the kitchen.”

      Sense of Accomplishment

      According to Rosemary E. Riley, PhD, LD, teaching consumers how to cook is a vital role for registered dietitian nutritionists. Riley is a board member and chair of the health committee at Local Matters in Columbus, OH, a community organization focusing on culinary nutrition programming for seniors, families, and people with diabetes. She retired recently after 25 years at Abbott Nutrition where she founded the Abbott Nutrition Health Institute.
      “We can demonstrate that people can make delicious, satisfying, healthful meals for themselves and their families,” Riley says. “It doesn’t happen overnight. Some of the barriers I have encountered with participants in our program is limited cooking skills as well as reduced cooking confidence. Some people are rusty but others are truly new to cooking from scratch. Since most people are busy, it is important that cooking classes focus on simple but delicious recipes that can be used multiple ways.
      “To bring more people back to cooking we need to emphasize the great sense of accomplishment people can feel when mastering a technique that you can so readily share with your family and friends. The improvement in health parameters may take some time to materialize but the more immediate gratification of preparing tasty, healthful meals and sharing them with family and friends feeds the soul,” Riley says.

      A Priceless Skill

      Sometimes, all it takes is encouragement. Whenever I attend a wedding or baby shower, the advice I give to brides- and moms-to-be is: “Have a meal at home with your family.” Let’s recover the almost-lost art of cooking in our own lives and pass this priceless skill to those we help to eat well and be healthy.


        • Smith L.P.
        • Ng S.W.
        • Popkin B.M.
        Trends in US home food preparation and consumption: analysis of national nutrition surveys and time use studies from 1965-1966 to 2007-2008.
        Nutr J. 2013; 12: 45
      1. OECD (2011), Society at a Glance 2011 - OECD Social Indicators. Accessed September 25, 2017.